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Standards: Quick Guide

A quick introduction to standards how to access them


In essence, a standard is an agreed way of doing something.  

Standards are applied to many materials, products, methods and services. They are designed for voluntary use and do not impose any regulations. However, laws and regulations may refer to certain standards, making compliance with them compulsory.

Health and Safety standards aimed at workplace safety are a well known example, but you will find standards operating across many activities of daily life, for example IT standards to keep data safe, food safety standards to protect against contamination and many more.

The standards are laid out in a published specification that establishes a common language and an agreed, repeatable way of doing an activity or process. 

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British Standards Online

The University has a subscription to the British Standards Online (BSOL) database 

You can access a comprehensive library of over 97,000 internationally recognised standards. It’s available 24/7 and revised every single day so you’ll always be up to date on the latest industry best practice.
It includes a full range of technical and business content in the subject areas of Health and Life Sciences and Science, Engineering and Technology, including business, commerce and finance, construction, electrical and electronic engineering, healthcare and medical devices, manufacturing, and mining and minerals.

In addition to British Standards, you can access some (but not all)  ASTM, ISO, CEN, CENELEC and IEC on BSOL. 

Help and guidance is available in the BSOL user guide.  You can also view an introductory video online and other guidance material online via the BSI website. 

Regular webinars are run throughout the year by BSI to help users make the most of BSOL.


  • To enhance the safety, reliability and quality of products and services.

  • To harmonize technical specifications of products and services, thus making industry more efficient and breaking down technical barriers to trade.

  • To save costs by optimising operations.

  • To promote the interoperability of products and services.

  • As a resource for the development of regulations by governments.

  • Standards are designed for voluntary use, and do not impose any regulations.

  • However, laws and regulations may refer to certain standards and make compliance compulsory.

  • Observation of certain standards is often a requirement in order to comply legally with a contract.

  • Specification: highly prescriptive; the detailed absolute requirements for a product, material, process, service or system, and the procedures for checking conformity; the most commonly used standard.

  • Method: highly prescriptive; an agreed way of measuring, testing or specifying what is reliably repeatable in different circumstances and places

  • Guide: advice which reflects the current thinking and practice among subject experts.

  • Vocabulary: set of terms and definitions to help harmonize the use of language in a particular sector, field or discipline.

  • Code of Practice: recommendations for accepted good practice; incorporates a degree of flexibility in application.

  • Classification: designations and descriptions of different grades of a product.

  • Usually in response to a request from industry or stakeholders, such as consumer groups.
  • They are drafted by a panel of international experts within a technical committee.
  • All aspects of the standard, including scope, key definitions and content, are negotiated by the panel.
  • Development is through formal stages of drafting and consultation, aimed at achieving consensus and maximum stakeholder input.
  • British Standards are usually developed within 12–15 months; international standards take around 3 years.
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